Gold worth Rs12.5m stolen from Lal Qalandar’s shrine

Auqaf minister orders inquiry, fixing criminal responsibility

Z Ali December 23, 2023


More than 58 tola of gold, worth around Rs12.5 million, has been stolen from the shrine of Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Jamshoro district.

The unprecedented incident, given the amount of theft which has been officially admitted by the Auqaf Department, comes as a reflection of the poor management and security of the gifts which are given in cash and kind by the devotees.

On Friday, Sindh Caretaker Minister for Religious Affairs and Auqaf directed the department to refer investigation of the case to Sindh Anti-Corruption Establishment. The Sindh Secretary Auqaf Munawar Ali Mahesar also suspended Muhammad Zubair Baloch, an Office Superintendent of BPS-17 who was posted as Manager Auqaf at the shrine.

"Please refer the matter to anti-corruption immediately," the minister wrote in remarks on a letter submitted to him about the incident by Mahesar. "Also refer the matter to the FIA [Federal Investigation Agency] as this person may not be acting alone."

In his report to the minister the secretary conveyed that "large amount of gold and silver ornaments have been stolen from Dargah of Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qaladar." According to Mahesar, in his written statement Baloch accepted his negligence and carelessness with regard to keeping safe the valuable ornaments. "Baloch and other persons involved are liable to be dealt with disciplinary action and face criminal proceedings."

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Baloch has been serving as Auqaf's manager at the shrine in Sehwan for the last 12 years. In his letter he stated that whenever the shrine received valuable gifts, especially the jewellery, he used to check genuineness of the ornaments and weighed them as well before keeping them at a safe place.

He recalled that on his request the government constituted a committee in January, 2022, headed by the chief administrator Auqaf to shift gold items to a locker at National Bank of Pakistan's main branch in Hyderabad. At that time more than 58 tolas of gold was in his possession at the shrine and it was supposed to be kept at the locker number 302 of Fatima Jinnah branch of the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) in Hyderabad. However, owing to the official procrastination the gold could not be moved to the locker.

Baloch claimed that due to his fragile health condition and repeated hospitalization during the last four years, he began to entrust the valuable items in the shrine's store to the custody of a contractual staff, Ali Raza Gopang. He alleged that Gopang stole the gold and has escaped from the town. Baloch told the officials that he intended to lodge an FIR to nominate Gopang in the theft. "I accept my negligence that I handed over the store's key to a person of questionable credibility."

Despite acknowledging his negligence, the manager sought time from the department to hunt Gopang with the help of the police and recover the stolen gold. He reminded that under his custody 141.7 tolas of gold have already been safely deposited in the NBP's locker.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2023.


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